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Talking nature at the party conferences


Autumn is with us, the leaves are turning and there is an unmistakeable feeling of impending winter in the air. So it must be party conference season – or, to be precise, party conference season must have come and gone.

The Liberal Democrats have met in Bournemouth and Labour in a still sunny Brighton. The Conservatives braved typical Manchester weather, with plenty of showers among the bright spells, and the SNP have just finished their gathering in a clear but chilly Aberdeen.

The conferences used to be held pretty much exclusively in seaside towns, with Bournemouth, Brighton and Blackpool the favourites. The first two still feature, as this year, though Blackpool seems to have slipped off the list of chosen destinations. Instead, conferences increasingly take place in big cities, like Manchester and Birmingham.

WWF-UK Chief Executive David Nussbaum speaking at the Conservative ConferenceWWF-UK Chief Executive David Nussbaum speaking at the Conservative Conference

To those not committed to any political tribe, these can seem like rather odd events – gatherings of political anoraks (and often real anoraks, given the prevailing weather at this season). But they are opportunities to talk to the parties – and their activists – to remind them of the promises they have made, and to press them into action on new issues.

For that reason, WWF – and many other charities – get involved with the conferences. A small and intrepid team of us heads off in the autumn to talk to politicians at their jamborees, and to try to make sure that pressure on them for action is coming from within their parties, as well as outside.

This year, we were talking about nature. Working with colleagues from the RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts, we highlighted to the political parties the threats to our natural world – starkly illustrated by our recent ‘Living Planet’ (PDF) and ‘Living Blue Planet’ (PDF) reports – but also the opportunities for them to change the direction of travel.

Those opportunities include the Government’s commitment to producing a 25 year plan for nature, with work on that starting in earnest this autumn. We are calling on politicians of all parties to push to ensure that this is an ambitious and wide-ranging plan – one that includes action on the UK’s environmental footprint abroad as well as the restoration of our biodiversity and habitats at home.

We are urging UK politicians to maintain the strong leadership of recent years on tackling poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, and to lead the campaign this autumn for reform of the EU’s Timber Regulation, supporting the aim of achieving a market in 100% legal and sustainable timber by 2020. And in the marine environment, we are pressing politicians to complete the work of designating an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas in the UK’s seas.

Atlantic grey seal, Lundy Island, UKAtlantic grey seal, Lundy Island, UK

So there is much for politicians of all parties to be doing – and clear drivers for them to do it. Among these are the new Sustainable Development Goals, agreed around a month ago in New York, which all governments have a responsibility to implement. Strong action to protect and improve the natural environment would be an important contributor to the UK delivering on these goals.

Equally important will be an ambitious global deal to tackle climate change and, with the clock ticking down towards December’s crunch Paris summit we, with other organisations that are members of the Climate Coalition, took our message to the Conservative Conference that we need to see the UK leading in this area. That leadership means both pushing for a strong deal in Paris, but also backing it up with the measures at home – including investment in renewables and energy efficiency and an end to dirty coal – that will show that the UK can walk the walk. We asked Conservative MPs to back the ambitions of the pledge on climate action that the Prime Minister signed early this year.

In short, there was lots to talk about at this year’s conferences. We did our bit to ensure that environmental arguments cut through the cacophony of the cold canapé circuit, and that ambitions were raised for the crucial political decisions to come.

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